Twitter, hijab and spandex: What a great Games!

 

The Olympic Games. Once every four years the world comes together for arguably the most inclusive global event in the world.

We gather to watch exceptional people do exceptional things, competing for themselves and for their nation.

The Olympic rainbow of countries is pleasingly broad and inclusive too, giving the opening ceremony a unique appeal.

The United Nations only wishes it had this kind of clout, honestly speaking.

The Olympic Games are also welcome because they provide a chance to spend hours watching sports that no one would be caught dead watching otherwise: Archery, for example, or gymnastics.

Everyone watches gymnastics. Part of the guilty pleasure, I imagine, has to do with spandex.

And then there is the symbolic fight for national pride and global machismo. Some countries take this competition seriously and have the means to do so.

Team USA and Team China can always be counted on to flood the proceedings and give themselves multiple chances to win medals.

Others, like Tanzania, are inexplicably represented there even though their athletes do not have a hope of winning.

This is a testament not to our local sporting industry but to the sheer dedication of the few local athletes who qualify for the Games against all odds.

 Moment of glory

Tanzania is hardly a sporting nation. We’re just about starting to work on the quality of our football. Other pursuits are virtually orphaned, so you can imagine the Olympic spirit that drives the handful of local athletes who do make it to the Games.

Our moment of glory is admittedly long behind us — I don’t think there’s anything Tanzania can do in the next century to top John Steven Akwari’s performance at the 1968 Games in Mexico.

It seems that the best strategy is to leave the regional medal-collecting to Kenya, which has invested considerable effort in running and whose runners can give the rest of us vicarious thrills as we imagine what it would be like if we had a sporting industry of our own.

Then there’s the politics of the Games — not necessarily the international relations so much as the underlying cultural issues and unexpected developments.

This year’s Games came with two delicious controversies that said a lot about our “global” approach to religion and technology. These were the first Games to suffer the effects of social media.

Considering how pervasive social media have become, it is strange to think that only four years ago the social media revolution hadn’t taken place yet.

And what trouble it has caused! There are athletes who forgot themselves and said stupid things online, only to be punished.

There are others who have been bullied and threatened and reviled by their public, causing them no end of distress.

Clearly, teams did not prepare themselves for the unforgiving nature of these media... which in these global recessionary times only spells out one thing: There are jobs to be created here for 2016. Always look on the bright side of a controversy.

Congratulations to Saudi Arabia

Finally, hearty congratulations to Saudi Arabia, which allowed female athletes onto its team for the first time ever.

This is a country in which young girls are not allowed to play sports in government schools and women are not allowed to attend public sporting events.

That they have female Olympians at all with that kind of attitude is cause for amazement. These ladies brought with them an unexpected cultural conversation about hijabs in sports. What’s the fuss, you might ask.

I don’t know. I watched and I listened and the truth seems to be that hijabs are neither here nor there in the great scheme of things.

The debate could have made some sense if head coverings were shown to compromise safety in a sport, or to enhance performance unexpectedly.

No such luck. The ones that showed up on a handful of athletes seemed to be well designed and entirely neutral.

The question is, why would anyone bother getting worked up about the wearing of hijabs at a gathering where the range of attire crosses various social and cultural norms?

What is so threatening about a woman who covers her hair, there among the men in tights and the abundant displays of sweaty flesh and plastic hair and psychedelic tattoos that have come a long way from the standard “I Heart Mom”?

I’m afraid the answer to that is unworthy of the Olympic Games, but I suppose it must be taken in the spirit of the times. We’ve conquered racial and ideological barriers in the Games, the religious ones must follow suit.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report, http://mikochenireport.blogspot.com. E-mail: elsieeyakuze@gmail.com

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